donating children’s books

Thank you Berkeley Carroll School

by Sebastian Zuba

When I joined the Wonderland BookSavers team in 2017, I was the only member who didn’t live in Connecticut, and we immediately knew that one of the best ways I could support our efforts would be to expand our reach for acquiring books. One of the first schools in Brooklyn that I called was Berkeley Carroll, and from the very beginning the librarians there have been eager to help our cause! Berkeley Carroll is a K-12 school with a big heart and a lot of libraries (!) and Ms. Kris Hartley-Maneri, Ms. Kendra Barbary, Ms. Briar Sauro, Ms. Mimi Stauber, and Ms. Anna Murphy are the most wonderful librarian-heroes that Wonderland BookSavers could ever ask for!

The wonderful Berkeley Carroll librarians!

Every year, these amazing librarians cull through their incredible collections and designate any surplus or remaindered books for Wonderland BookSavers and then carefully pack them into heavy-duty book boxes. Because there are four libraries in the three different buildings, this usually means my sister and I do about 4 huge pick-ups every year!  

The amazing first grade teacher Ms. Cuba!

Since it’s Brooklyn and there are a lot of stairs and usually only one small service elevator in each building, the equally wonderful Mr. Hicham and his maintenance staff, help bring the books out to the street and then we load as many into our car at a time as we can! This takes a lot of coordinating and a lot of time and we are so grateful to everyone at Berkeley Carroll for making this happen!

The incredible Mr. Hicham, Mr. José and Mr. Salvador!

So far, books from Berkeley Carroll have gone to schools and community centers in need right here in NYC and Connecticut, as well as the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Reservations in South Dakota, and, with the help of the US-Africa Children’s Fellowship, all the way to Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Somalia. Wonderland BookSavers is a community that can only operate with a lot of helping hands along the way, and we are so lucky to have the amazing and generous staff of the Berkeley Carroll School on our team.

Lower school pick up

My grandmother has a sign in her kitchen with a quote that’s attributed to Gandhi that says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I recently read that this famous quote is actually a paraphrase and what Gandhi actually said was, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.”

My grandmother’s sign

What I like about this original quote is the greater emphasis on how each individual change can in fact effect a world of individual changes and that is exactly what is so amazing about Wonderland BookSavers. We’re all just doing one small part but together we can be a world of change.

Even though kids weren’t at school, the librarians still packed up books during Covid!

Thank you Ms. Kris, Ms. Kendra, Ms. Briar, Ms. Mimi, Ms. Anna and all the Berkeley Carroll staff for working so hard to be a world of change with us!

A Tale of One Hill and One Valley

This year, upon returning to New Beginnings Family Academy with 3,000 books to contribute to their summer reading program, I had the opportunity to reflect on the amazing journey I have traveled as co-founder, and now President of the Wonderland BookSavers Inc.

As a young and creative child, reading provided a window into thousands of fantastical worlds unbound by logic, physics, or everyday problems. This love of reading inspired my friends and I to take the modest first step of what would later become one of the important decisions of our lives: We started a book club.

I was only 8 at the time, and although reading exciting and compelling books such as Linda Sue Park’s, “A Single Shard,” with my three closest friends was wonderful, we felt like it wasn’t enough. With the passion we possessed for reading, we knew we had to do more, we wanted to live some of the values these stories engendered.  As it turned out, “A Single Shard,” would contain a quote that came to define our journey, “One hill, one valley, one day at a time. In that way, your spirit will not grow weary before you have even begun to walk.” If we had imagined then that within the following decade our book club would become a fully registered 501c3 international charity, donating over 825,000 books and thousands of other supplies to impoverished children and adults throughout the world, I’m certain we never would have embarked upon such an impossible-sounding journey. Starting with, as Linda Sue Park writes, “One hill,” we began slowly, gradually picking up speed.

Walking into our local library, at age 8, I never could have imagined how the boxes of books that lay at my feet would change my life entirely, “What are they doing on the floor?” I asked. The librarian responded, “These books are out of circulation, as nobody has checked them out in a long time. They are going to be shredded into pulp and sent to a newspaper.” I was horrified. How could these books, or any books, deserve to be shredded? I begged to take them home with me, where I could find them a new home.

I soon found a charter school, New Beginnings Family Academy, that was requesting books. Together, my team and I wheeled in a large donation, 685 beautiful children’s books. We brought our books to the school library, where we saw one empty shelf after another. We knew our books would be well appreciated. We were given a tour of the school; the school children, our age, swarmed around us. They were as excited to meet us as were to meet them!  This was the first of many moments to come where I truly recognized how my love of books could literally introduce me to new worlds around me. 

That day, Wonderland BookSavers: Inspired by Literature was born. We set a goal of donating 1,500 books. With 685 books already donated, and our tagline, “Inspired by Literature,” we felt invincible. Over the coming months we would reach our goal multiple times. We hosted book drives at schools, churches, and libraries, giving speeches to hundreds of people at a time. Although the crowd before me and the sound of my own voice booming through the auditoriums often filled me with trepidation, I knew that if I could simply inspire my audience, I could make a real change in someone’s life.

The results were astounding, and with each barrier passed we found that we became more confident in ourselves, understood our mission more clearly and as the Wonderland BookSavers grew and matured, and began connecting with children and communities around the world, so too, we were maturing, becoming more confident and more knowledgeable both about the power of literacy and the power of friendship. 

Today, as truly as we are touching and impacting the lives of others, equally, others from across the globe are impacting our lives.  The Wonderland BookSavers and our team are growing up together.

We remain so grateful to all who have joined us along the way. Thank you!

17,500 Books for Somaliland

Mark called to let us know that the container is being loaded mid-April, heading for a new country: Somaliland. Our garage was literally overflowing with boxes and bags in every corner. We could not have fit another book if we tried. We were ready to pack up the truck and send our books, toys, school supplies and clothing on to new homes, children and families!

We called our friends, Paul, Charles and brother Reid, and we began loading the truck.

Mark and Mom kept sorting and boxing while we loaded the truck.

Finally, we were done: 17,500 books and so many toys, stuffed animals, clothes and supplies!

We look forward to sharing the pictures of our items when the shipping container arrives in Somaliland, many months from now!

“There is no God but ALLAH and MOHAMMED is his messenger”

Our Container Arrives in Sierra Leone

We are happy to report that the books we packed (above) with Mark have made it all the way from Brooklyn, NY to Sierra Leone. Mark received this beautiful letter from Sheku, the founder of Hands on Leone. We are grateful to have been able to contribute to this meaningful project.

Dear Mark,

Thank you for making this wonderful project happen in my home country Sierra Leone. As a kid, I dreamed of building a educational center for my fellow disables people. When you are disable in Sierra Leone, you are considered useless and you are not important in the society. I felt this pain when I lost both my hands in the civil war.

After losing my hands at the age of 12, I did not have anyone to pay for my school fee. One day I was setting with my young brother Saio at the Aberdeen refugee camp for amputees, an American Peace Corp came to help amputees kids to go to school and I was one of the kids. I was registered to start school on September 2000 right after the war. After registration, I started school September 6, 2000. Upon my arrival at the Aberdeen school, I was told by the teachers and principal of the school to go home because the is not meant for people like me. I returned at the camp crying and I thought my world had ended. I did not have no mother or father to take care of me. The rebels killed both my parents in the war. I am the older one among my siblings. 

Mr. Gary the American Peace Corp who paid for my school fee, came to see if all the kids he paid school fee for attending school. He came and found me at the same spot where I was setting when he was visiting the camp. I told him my story. After that, he found someone at the camp to tutor me. I attended tutoring class every day until I got the chance to come America. When I arrived here, I found that people with disabilities were well respected.  From that moment on, I told myself after I finished school and get a good job and I will start a organization to help build a educational center for my fellow amputees. Also, in the center we will have medical center to help them with their prosthesis legs and hands.

I want to say thank you to you and your team for making my dreams come true. I look forward to work with you and your team to make this dream true.
Thank you,

Sheku

Winter Book Boxing

Our team gathered to box the numerous books and supplies that we have been collecting over the past several months. 

It was a fun, chilly few hours in the garage. 

We have more than 250 boxes packed, labeled and ready for shipment. 

We still have dozens of boxes of books left to prepare for shipping, and are anticipating another few hundred more that are scheduled to arrive at our garage soon.

We will continue collecting and boxing throughout the winter.

We hope to be able to deliver books to our shipping partners this spring.

Our next target destinations are Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Somaliland.  

Greetings from our garage! We can’t wait for children to receive our books!

Amelia and Mason to the Rescue!

We are thrilled to report that despite schools being closed and our community being on Covid lockdown, Amelia and Mason have been diligently gathering and donating toys, books, water bottles and school supplies throughout the winter.

Each time we return home we discover new treasures waiting on the doorstep or front porch!

We are so grateful to both Amelia and Mason (and mom Joy!) for their generosity and commitment to helping children around the world. We know that these gifts will be truly appreciated by the children who will receive them. Thank you so much to Amelia, Mason, and the many many local children who have contributed to our efforts.

“Give, and it shall be given unto you.” Luke 6:38

Building Solar Powered Digital Libraries

This winter, in partnership with our friends Bob and Manning from USACF, we split into teams to build several solar powered digital libraries that we then shared with our partners in the Kyamaganda Community of the Lwengo District of Uganda.

These libraries are stored on a miniature computer, a Raspberry PI.  Bob and Manning, and some WBS kids, compiled the material.  The books which are stored on the raspberry PI include African stories, classic British and American literature currently in the public domain, textbooks in the subjects of math, science, history and health, Khan Academy lessons, Wikipedia excerpts, and Health and Agriculture texts relevant to African life. In total, there are 1,000’s of books or lessons available to either view or download.

The raspberry PI has a signal range of between 25-50 feet.  Any WIFI enabled device can pick up the signal and have access to the material.  This is very important in areas that have no internet, as it provides books and resources that are otherwise unavailable. Parents can download books and lessons for children unable to attend school. Using a projector, teachers can provide lessons to an entire class.

Here is a report from Mark regarding the success in Zimbabwe:

“I got an update from Dominic Muntanga about the status of education in Zimbabwe last week. Because of Covid-19 and a teacher’s job action over wages (Zim is in the midst of a runaway inflation spiral), schools are closed. When they will reopen is anyone’s guess. Most rural children have no access to books. Most learning is on hold. Dominic wondered what could be done.

Enter the Bridge Pi. We came up with a plan to work with church congregations and urban centers. Moyo (our Zimbabwean expert on the Pi) would bring his Bridge Pi to a designated location on a specific date. Parents, relatives and friends would come with the cell phones and if they got within 50 meters of the Bridge Pi, they would be able to download a variety of books onto their cell phones. Suddenly children with no books could read books on their family’s cell phones. What was amazing was how easily this was put into motion.

Its potential is enormous in every community across Africa and elsewhere. 

It’s like turning on a light in a dark room.

Enormous thanks to Bob Rollins and Manning Sutton who developed the Bridge Pi and are continually adapting it to the needs of different countries.”

We decided to begin our KCDO introduction of these digital libraries with 3 units.  Two are powered by electricity and one has the option of being solar powered. We divided up the assembly and testing of these units between three families, this shared both the cost (approximately $130 each) and the work (very simple).

Brooks made the first one, following internet directions and additional directions from Manning. 

Then our friends in California, Iris and Noah, made the next one.  Each of us tested our units.  It was amazing to see all of the digital options pop up on our computer and phones, all powered by this one tiny computer. Henry, Ella and Wills made the third.  Theirs has optional solar power.

Finally, we were able to send the first two digital libraries to Willy at KCDO in Uganda.  It took him a few tries, but Brooks spoke to Willy on WhatsApp and so did Bob and Manning.  Willy and Brooks rewrote the directions in a simpler form. Willy said, “It’s working!”

Next Willy held an all-day conference at the KCDO library.  He brought tech support and the heads of the three target test schools, as well as students from the schools so that everyone could test the system, see what works and make a plan to incorporate the materials into the school system.  The teachers and students offered some suggestions which Bob and Manning are working on, such as incorporating Uganda specific school books. The KCDO report on this event can be read here.

Brooks will test Henry’s solar raspberry PI.  Bob and Manning may update the SD card to include Ugandan specific information, and we will send this third mini-computer on to KCDO. Several of these mini-computers are already successfully deployed in Zimbabwe, we are hopeful that we can have similar success in Uganda.

Looking for a winter simple activity?

Contact us if you would like to build a digital library for the Kyamaganda community. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sharing While Sheltering: A Win-Win for NYC

As we shelter in place we continue to collect books and our collections have been growing.  Numerous libraries, unable to host book sales, as well as people stuck at home and enthusiastically reviewing their possessions, have resulted in a surplus of fabulous books and clothing in our garage.

Sebastian received at least 100 boxes of beautiful children’s books, delivered contactless, from The Pawling Free Library.

Brooks was able to bring these books (contactless) to our WBS garage.

Pequot Library brought a pickup truck filled with books to our garage.

Typically, during the summer, we ship these books to Zimbabwe, but this year all our shipments are stuck in Customs, due to Covid-19.

We began receiving requests from NYC shelters, requesting books for homeless children who, unable to attend school, lack internet, and have no access to books, were craving both entertainment and education.  The only issue was that we were unable to deliver the books, and the shelters were unable to receive them, as most locations were unable to accept deliveries due to Covid-19.

Piece of Cake moving company graciously stepped in and offered to donate their truck and men to our cause.

Piece of Cake came to our garage, and on a bright sunny day, with all of us moving quickly, we were able to fill their entire truck.

Partnering with our various friends, including Pawling Free Library, Pequot Library, Piece of Cake Moving & Storage, St.Pius X Parish, Book Fairies, US-Africa Children’s Fellowship, and NYC homeless shelters, including WIN-NYC, we were jointly able to share over 20,000 books and numerous clothing items across multiple shelters in all 5 Manhattan boroughs.

We hope that access to books brings some relief from the endless boredom of sheltering, sheltering sheltering!

Visiting the Rez

South Dakota and Montana are home to some of the most starkly beautiful locations on earth: American Indian Reservations, colloquially known as “The Rez.”  American Indian children, like many children, love learning and reading.  Unfortunately, the remote residences located across enormous numbers of acres means that many children lack access to books.

After a winter of book collecting, and a spring of organizing and boxing, we were ready for a summer of travel.The drive across country is very looong.  Annabel searched ridiculous places to stop along the way, and this really helped our attitude,“Only 4 more hours to the Giant Pink Elephant!”“6 more hours to the Jolly Green Giant!” and of course we all loved being welcomed to Welcome!Camping added to our sense of adventure. Giant American flags are popular at the camp grounds!Our first stop was Lame Deer Montana, location of the 445,000-acre Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.  We brought children’s picture books to the Chief Wooden Leg Library, part of Chief Dull Knife College. These books will be shared with 8 Head Start programs located across the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. It was an honor to learn about Chief Wooden Leg who fought in both the Battle of Rosebud and the Battle of Little Big Horn, two locations we have visited several times.We next visited Rosebud Reservation, where we met with our friend Beth,and dropped off many boxes of books that will also be distributed across the reservation, enhancing 20 libraries we helped create at various community centers last summer.Our next two stops were both on Pine Ridge reservation.  First, we went to our favorite school, Red Cloud Indian School.  This successful school was originally started by Red Cloud and the Jesuits.  Its aim is to provide Indian children with an extensive education that equally combines a Catholic education while honoring and adhering to Native American faith practices.  This school also includes a Lakota language immersion program in which children as young as 18 months can learn Lakota as their native language. We have often contributed both books and funds supporting the Lakota language program and we were happy to be back bringing more books.After our stop at Red Cloud School we continued through the Pine Ridge Reservation to Red Shirt Table Elementary School.  Here we met our many of our friends who are working with Laura to create a fun summer camp for children in the Red Shirt Table region.  We brought our usual supply of picture books, along with a few toys.No trip across America would be complete without our travel adventures.  These included attending church at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Hiking Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Visiting churches and museums in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Spray painting cars at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, Visiting Ye Grand Old Opry in Nashville, Tennessee And riding roller coasters in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.From Sea to Shining Sea: One American Summer.And now, mid-winter, we are making plans to return to work at Summer Camp, and help build houses in the Children’s Village on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Would you like to join us?

Thank You Pawling Library! By Sebastian

During this season of reflecting on our blessings, we can’t help but think about our friends at the Pawling Library in Pawling, NY. The Friends of Pawling Library have been a true and constant blessing to the work of Wonderland BookSavers, and particularly Library Trustee Karen Franco and her husband Juan Franco, who have been generously and consistently donating and delivering hundreds of boxes of books every year to Wonderland since 2018.

A few years ago, I contacted Pawling Library about their annual book sale, hoping they would consider donating any remaindered books from their sale to WBS. The Friends of Pawling Library were not only willing to donate their leftover books, but Ms. Franco suggested continuing their support throughout the year! The Francos deliver boxes of beautiful childrens’ and young adults’ books into my family’s garage, even when we’re not there!  We come home and boxes of books have miraculously appeared to be sorted and distributed around the world, to children in need.

Books from The Pawling Library have thus far been delivered to Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Kenya in Africa, as well as the Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Cheyenne River Reservations in South Dakota. Last year, when the Kyamaganda Community Development Organization in Uganda requested Bibles for their staff members that go out to the different villages they serve, the Francos came to the rescue, somehow procuring 45 used and remaindered bibles nearly overnight!

Several months later, this message came from Willy Bukenya who leads that organization: “With smiling heart and happy face, I am happy to inform you that your donated 52 boxes of books, learning materials and sports and games equipment have arrived today in Uganda and at Kyamaganda Community Development Organization.  My team was happy too with the Bibles which will strengthen the spiritual nature of our project staff!”

In Mr. Bukenya’s perfect words, with smiling hearts and happy faces, we deeply thank The Friends of the Pawling Library for their ceaseless support and generosity in helping us bring books to children and communities in need. Their tireless help and support has been a great blessing to this organization, and we hope to continue our partnership for years to come.

Thank you Pawling Library! We Love you! PS Thank you for writing my name on every box, here you can see the very boxes you donated, in Uganda, with Sebastian written across the top!